The type of bedding substrate you get for your tortoise is a crucial decision to make as it directly affects its well-being; if it lives in a great environment, it will have a healthy and happy life. For any Tortoise parent looking for an excellent substrate material, we advise you to go for the Zilla Reptile Husk Brick Substrate.
Most owners find it tasking to select the best bedding substrate that works best for their tortoise. Notably, any wrong choice can be risky, and, in extreme cases, cause death. To help, we will highlight what to look for in a substrate and give you our top picks.
In this article, we’re going to review the following bedding substrates:
- Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding
- Zilla Terrarium Bedding
- Zoo Med Bark Fir Bedding
- Zoo Med Terrarium Moss
- Zilla Reptile Husk Brick Substrate
5 Best Bedding Substrates for Tortoises Reviewed
To find stable, safe, and moisture-retaining beddings, we sorted different materials, including coconut husks, moss, mulches, and natural barks, to determine which stand out the most. Have a look at some of our top choices.
This substrate is a popular choice among reptile owners since wood is natural, ready to use, and easy to find. It is entirely made from natural cypress wood and doesn’t contain any toxins (only woods like cedar and pine have resins). This material is a favorite for many due to its ability to improve humidity levels, as it efficiently absorbs water. Secondly, it can absorb odors, enabling it to maintain its cleanliness.
It is also cost-friendly since you can clean and reuse it after washing in boiling water/ sterilizing and drying. It is exceptionally soft but not too much; hence, suitable for all pet ages and sizes. It also replicates the tortoise’s natural home and works best for all tortoise species regardless of the skin type. Some materials irritate sensitive skins, especially for baby tortoises.
One downside is that wood can cause impaction when tortoises accidentally swallow it, and the sharp edges can hurt them in the process. It can even rapture the digestive tract during digestion. We recommend having a separate feeding area away from the bedding to prevent accidental swallowing. Additionally, the pieces tend to chip and get dusty when the tortoise digs, which can irritate their eyes and nose.
- It retains moisture and maintains humidity
- You can wash and reuse it
- It can absorb odors
- Big chunks can cause impaction
- Sharp edges can tear and rapture the tortoise’s gut walls
Affordable substrate alternatives are natural-like walnut shell chips. They mimic the tortoise’s natural setup to make it feel as comfortable and homey as possible. Unlike other materials, it has an outstanding balance between soft and coarse for a great feel under the pet’s feet, which makes it easier to dig and play. If the enclosure is glass, you don’t need to worry about it scratching or leaving unwanted marks, even when it frequently contacts the wall.
The material can also efficiently conduct heat, allowing you to heat the enclosure without the worry of heat absorption or loss. It also helps that it is super light, making it an ideal alternative to sand and other materials that cause impaction. For best results, it should be one or two inches thick when in the enclosure.
The only downside is that you cannot reuse it; you have to replace it at least once a month. Secondly, it is not advisable for use by sensitive keepers with nut allergies since it tends to release “nut dust” when in use.
- It creates a natural dessert-like environment
- It efficiently conducts heat
- It does not scratch glass
- It is not reusable
- It is not recommended for people with nut allergies
This substrate is natural bedding made from fir tree bark. The bedding allows tortoises to dig and burrow, and it gives their enclosure a natural rainforest-like environment. The bedding also absorbs moisture in the cage and releases it into the air, thereby keeping your buddy constantly hydrated. Zoo Med bark for beddings is reusable, and you can use them for up to three months. You only need to soak it in hot water to clean it and repeat the same process around four times a year before you need to replace it.
We found Zoo Med to be the best bedding substrate for tortoise since you can recycle it, saving you the money you would have used to buy new substrate every quarter. We would recommend it for a beginner who may not have experience with keeping tortoises or using substrates. Additionally, it saves you the hassle of frequently spraying the cage to make it moist since it remains damp for a long time.
- It is long-lasting
- It is economical since you can reuse it
- It has a high initial cost
- The substrate can attract molds
Most young tortoise and hatchling owners prefer this substrate. It is made of sphagnum moss, which is known as the leading substrate in moisture retention. The moss makes it a realistic option, which makes the terrarium cozy and homey. Tortoises need dampness for better health and growth. The substrate provides ideal bedding enabling hatchlings to thrive as they spend most of their lives there. Terrarium moss removes odor from the cage due to its absorption abilities, and you can recycle it by dipping in hot water, drying, and then reusing.
Baby tortoises love burrowing in this substrate because it is easy to dig and stable. It is also safe, as the tortoises can safely eat it since it digests and doesn’t cause impaction. The primary concern with this alternative is the fungus growth when it stays for too long. Therefore, it needs frequent replacement. Since you can only use it once, it is pretty pricey, but the quality and advantages make it worth the price. If you go the cheaper direction, you can find peat moss, but the alternative may contain acidic toxins such as tannins, affecting the tortoise’s shell.
- It doesn’t cause impaction
- It works efficiently for hatchlings
- It is quite pricey
- It flakes when it dries up
Many owners are finding coconut husks a viable alternative to soil bedding since it retains moisture for long. This bedding comes in two types; coco fiber and coco coir. One fantastic quality is its ability to absorb odor, which helps you deal with foul smells. This product also comes in a brick form; hence, it is easy to store without worrying about it spoiling from dampness. Other users even buy several bricks in advance to save them the hassle of frequent buying.
To use it, you only need to soak the block in hot water and let it expand by up to four times the original volume. Another feature you will love is that it won’t cause your tortoise compaction. It is safe to eat, as it will get digested like any other food. To make it more stable, users mix it with soil, but, cautiously, because dirt can block the digestive tubes when the tortoise ingests it. One compromise with the bedding is that it is lightweight. While it is easy to dig into, it doesn’t have the structural integrity to hold up after the tortoise piles it.
- It is easy to dig into
- It comes in block form hence easy to store
- It is too spongy and collapsible
- It may discolor your tortoise
What To Look for in a Bedding
Tortoises may suffer from respiratory diseases, dehydration, shell rot, and other complications due to their substrate’s material. An indoor pet spends most of its life in its enclosure; hence, the bedding type is crucial.
Although there are several types on sale, note that not all substrates work for every tortoise. There are other factors to consider before you settle on one. Take a look at some critical factors to consider before you buy bedding substrate for your tortoise.
The first aspect to regard is whether your substrate choice is safe for your tortoise. Some materials are too risky to use as substrates, despite the cost or availability. First, the bedding should be natural and soft; or else, it may harm your pet. The main concern about some options is that they cause impaction. This condition is where the tortoise’s digestive tracts block, making it difficult to digest food and excrete, leading to rapture. If the reptile eats a lot of indigestible material, fatal impaction may occur.
There are many reported cases of tortoises undergoing emergency surgeries to remove the substances stuck in their guts. If you provide your pet a lot of water and fiber-rich foods, it can eliminate the swallowed materials as droppings.
Inevitably, tortoises tend to eat substrates in their enclosure. It is best to select a material that passes through the digestive tracts to be safe. We also recommend providing food in a clear area to prevent it from accidentally gulping the indigestible substrates. Consider serving food on two piled-up dishes and avoid placing it directly on the bedding.
Tortoises need to keep hydrated by drinking a lot of water and absorbing the moisture from their surroundings. Therefore, a suitable substrate retains the enclosure’s wetness. When the humidity is low, most growing tortoises get complications such as dehydration and pyramiding. On the other hand, the substrate should dry up in time to get rid of excess moisture. If it stays wet for long, it can be a breeding zone for bacteria and infections, which cause dangerous diseases like respiratory infections.
Some tortoise species like the elongated and red-footed tortoises love it when it is wet, but others like the Russian tortoises prefer the substrate dry. Always go for one that retains wetness, but not for too long. The upside with such material is that it dries out in time, enabling you to reuse it. With a humidifier and a good substrate, you can achieve a suitable environment for your pet. The material will retain moisture, and you won’t have to keep spraying the bedding.
Though mostly overlooked, the substrate material should be soft for your tortoise to walk on. It must be stable enough to support your pet’s weight and stay in place when the tortoise moves around. If the bedding is of rough, chunky materials, it will be difficult for the tortoise to walk. Hatchlings particularly find such substrates stressful due to their lightweight and small limbs. In contrast, if it’s too finely ground, the tortoise’s limbs will keep sinking through whenever they try to walk, thereby limiting movement.
In the same light, tortoises can easily swallow smooth substrates. Your option should be moderately ground, not too coarse, or too fine. This way, the tortoises will have a grip on the ground to facilitate walking. Some owners go for paper bedding; we strongly discourage this since baby tortoises find it too slippery to walk on. As they keep trying to move, their limbs slip out, and they eventually end up with gait problems like splayed legs.
We may fail to notice it with our naked eyes, but some materials are hazardous to our pets. For instance, some mulches are known to release resin, which can harm some tortoise species. Other soils also contain fertilizers and dangerous chemicals, which are risky when ingested by the tortoise. These substances may not necessarily be harmful to humans but can be fatal to tortoises. The good news is that you can wash and sterilize such soils to eliminate all chemical traces.
The only way these materials can harm you is if you are sensitive to particular allergens. The most common trigger for allergies is the wood and mulch odor that irritates those who are allergic. Such sensitive people would instead go for dry coconut husks; the smell is not potent, only mild when the material is wet.
Ease of Digging
Many tortoises are exceptional diggers who spend most of their time scratching and digging the material in their enclosure. Notably, depending on how much your pet loves it, you may find dug-up holes deep enough to reach the enclosure’s floor. When selecting a substrate, consider one that is easy to dig into but still firm enough to hold up, not entirely collapse after piling. Hard material can stress your tortoise, and very soft ones will easily collapse over your tortoise after digging.
How Often Should You Change Tortoise Bedding?
A substrate is necessary for your tortoise’s health because it acts as the natural ground that they walk on. It also conserves moisture that keeps the enclosure humid and hydrates the reptile’s bodies. Moreover, tortoise beddings also absorb its urine, thus keeps the terrarium dry. How many times you replace your tortoise’s bedding will depend on how much the reptile soils it. However, experts advise that you change it at least once every 2-3 weeks, especially if it is soil-based.
The substrate type also matters. With some high-quality beddings, you can only replace them twice or thrice a year. Some also allow changing in bits; when you spot the spoilt area, you can remove it and replace it with a fresh substrate. Some tortoises tend to poop more in water, and this saves you from constantly replacing the substrate.
Remember that delayed bedding replacement can be harmful to your tortoise pet because soiled substrates attract bacteria that can cause diseases to the tortoise. Therefore, you need to maintain its cleanliness and freshness since your pet’s health depends on it.
How Much Bedding Do You Need?
Having natural bedding feels homey for the tortoise; thus, it needs to be the right amount. It shouldn’t be too thick or too thin, just the perfect amount and comfortable enough to mimic what usually is in the wild. The recommended level is two to three inches deep. Before you buy beddings, consider that these reptiles are avid diggers, and they tend to eat the substrate since they love foraging. As a result, the substrate’s quantity may reduce.
A three-inch substrate will satisfy the tortoise’s instinct to burrow, enabling it to counter stress and exercise; hence, maintain its physical and emotional well-being. If you wish to save on substrate cost, you can heap the material in a corner to enable your pet to keep digging if it needs to. Make a specific spot thicker and the rest of the enclosure flatter.
Based on our highlighted pros and cons, we find the Zilla Reptile Husk Brick Substrate an effective substrate. With this substrate, you don’t have to worry about impaction since it is digestible and won’t block your pet’s tract. It also retains moisture for long but doesn’t remain too wet to form puddles. Also, the material doesn’t contain any toxins and can safely pass through the reptile’s digestive system. Alternatively, you can use the Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding, which is also moisture-retaining and reusable. It also absorbs odors, but you will have to be cautious to prevent your pets from eating it since it can cause impaction.